I got into advertising (my career for over 20 years) not by choice.

Uprooted from home base for almost five years (I was in the US for school, then work), I came back to everything new. Tony and I got married within the month, and took residence in Manila.

A totally different world! I had a new surname, a new home in a city, new neighbors, a new roommate, and new responsibilities.   

My new husband envisioned me to be a full-time housewife, waiting for him to come home from work, with the house all tidied up, and the food warmed.

I was a miscast.

Seeing me so bored after two months, he suggested that I applied for a teaching job. So I sent out a dozen resumes to different schools. Not one replied.

On our 5th month, I was a certified kitchen fiasco. Housework refrigerated my brain. 

So then he had this brilliant idea, "You love to write, right?"


He said he’d recommend me to Lyle Little, the American CEO of then the largest ad agency in the world. Grace, I said silently. 

Lyle made me go through a battery of tests, after which I was hired. More grace.

I had no idea what the job entailed, except that it had something to do with writing.    

On my first day, my boss asked me to write a five-minute story about a fertilizer. After poring over piles of references, I had a story. 

"Excellent!” my boss said. “Now, prune it down to two minutes without losing your creativity and the information.”  

"You're kidding me!" I laughed.

"Nope, that's copy writing," he grinned.

After another hour, I had my magnum opus. Why, I actually enjoyed the exercise! 

"Excellent!" my boss said it again. "Now, chop it down further into a 30-second radio commercial."

"Thirty seconds?!" I screeched, thinking it was mission impossible. But I was excited to try it.    

"Excellent!" he said for the third time.

On day one, I got my job description down pat.   
Albert Einstein was right when he said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

That, in essence, was my first lesson in advertising.

Then, after leaving advertising, that was my first rule in writing books about grace. 


Oh, Math!

One of the editors I work with, Beng, posted on social media about waking up from a nightmare: being unable to solve a Math problem!

That could have been my post. Math always brought me nightmares—whether I was awake or asleep.     

In college, I was in danger of failing my Math 101. I had to do something fast. I asked a Math major, my dorm mate, to please tutor me. She said, "Okay, but you'll have to pay me per hour."

It was a gargantuan problem. I did not have extra money and I couldn’t tell my parents about it. So I decided to skip snacks for three months and to walk, instead of ride, to every place in our huge campus so I could save my transportation budget.

Since I was paying my tutor an hourly rate, I forced myself to learn quickly.

I passed! My barely passing mark, however, brought my average grade down. Well, small price to pay for not failing.

My brain shut off whenever I encountered anything that had to do with numbers. I couldn't balance my checkbook and I shunned from making counting (even money) my problem. 

Like a big joke, I was elected treasurer in our small church. I couldn't make my Math-impaired system an excuse. So Sunday after Sunday, I’d struggle with numbers. A good thing it was just plus (offerings and tithes) and minus (expenses). Sixteen years later, the church grew so big the job became complicated—SSS, Pag-ibig, Philhealth, petty cash, vouchers, etc. came into the picture.

I was a candidate for mental exhaustion. So I begged an accountant friend to take over. After turning over the cash left with me, my accountant friend said, "You have an overage of P4,300.16 [she counted to the last centavo!].”

That was an accrual of all the cash I put in for fear of shortage. 

How did I ever manage those 16 years? With oodles of grace, no less. As I tried to be a good steward of the Lord's money, I learned to be a good steward of my own. Now I can balance my checkbook.

Sometimes my brain still shuts off when numbers are discussed, but am I blessed that they’re out of my hands, as I now work with words full time. 

(In the university where I teach, our grades are in letters, not numbers. Whew!)


Packing: An Epic Production

I have been busy packing for a month-long trip in the last two months. Yes, packing takes me that long. It's always like an epic movie production.

First, I pile all the things I think I need inside my luggage: several shirts; several pairs of pants; several scarves; several etc. Of course it bursts and belches.

In movie making, nothing is left to chance. Every possible angle is shot: safety shots after shots after shots. It's in the editing where choices are made and extraneous shots, or outtakes, are thrown away.

So then I take one shirt away one day and arrange those that are left. Still the luggage belches. I take another scarf away the next day and again, re-arrange what are left. Then I repeat the process the next day, till everything is sitting comfortably in all the compartments.

Naturally, the editing never ends. I continue to take things away one after the other, as the days run out on me. 

And to finally complete the packing, I ask the Lord to throw in grace, because I can’t travel without it.

"You'll travel safely, you'll neither tire nor trip. You'll take afternoon naps without a worry, you'll enjoy a good night's sleep. No need to panic over alarms or surprises, or predictions that doomsday's just around the corner, because God will be right there with you; he'll keep you safe and sound." Proverbs 3:23-26 (MSG)


Happy Resurrection Sunday

If I followed my blog rhythm, my next post wouldn't be due until two days from now. However, this day is too important to pass up.

This is the day we remember and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, three days after He died on the cross for us.

Happy Resurrection Sunday!

On this special occasion, worship is the first order of our day. We are up now. By 5 AM, and before the sun rises, we should be singing our first worship song with our faith brethren in church.

This year, our pastor earlier said he'd focus on the empty tomb and what it means. Scriptures say (Matthew 28:6-8), “He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.  And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead . . .” 

Four action words are in those verses:

•    Come

•    See

•    Go

•    Tell 

These verbs are significant because they are what Jesus' resurrection is all about—so mankind can conquer death as well. Come to Him. See that He has risen. Now, go and tell everyone the good news—we, too will have our own resurrection day after we’ve turned to dust.

And then, forever.

Grace that never ends . . .   


A Teacher’s Lament

The school year 2016-2017 has ended. While encoding my final grades, I felt happy and sad at the same time. 

Out of 25 students, seven got excellent grades. That’s a remarkable 28%. I was expecting eight, which would have jacked up my percentage to a high 32%, but one had a plagiarism issue, so I slid her down to Fail.  

This failing mark saddened me, because the student’s (let’s call her Alice) performance all through the term had been exemplary.  She is a good writer, a deep thinker, and articulate.

But stealing someone's words is non-negotiable. This was discussed in class ad infinitum especially because they were writing academic papers.

In Alice's case, it shouldn’t have happened. Her paper was written, organized, and researched well (and properly referenced), except for one short paragraph that she lifted en toto from another classmate’s work, submitted three days earlier. 

(The peril of having a writer for a teacher is that in checking papers, I read every word, and notice every misplaced punctuation mark. That short, copied paragraph did not escape me.)

Our university’s policy on plagiarism among students is to sanction both—the copier and the source. But before that, I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I talked to Alice the next day, and asked her to explain the errant paragraph.

Immediately contrite, she owned up to copying it. “X lent me her paper and I didn’t have enough time to flesh out one topic, so . . .” she sputtered. 

“Both of you will fail,” I said.

“Please, Miss Chong,” she begged. “Please do not penalize her. She doesn’t know I copied from her paper. She lent it to me with the best of intentions. I could never face her again if she found out.”

“Alice's grade then is an F,” I intoned stoically, my heart bursting into smithereens.  

“I know, Miss, no excuses. I deserve it."


"But, er, Miss, would you give me a s-second chance? I will revise my paper just to get a Pass," she said with great difficulty.  

What you did was totally senseless! I would have wanted to scream but that would be digging it in. She is an intelligent, persevering young lady; I only wished she had learned her lesson. 

She did. Before she left the room, I received encouraging grace through her whispered words, I will never do it again, Miss; I promise. 

I called her back and handed her paper, "You have 24 hours to revise it."  

She smiled.

(Note: Timelines have been slightly modified to protect the identity of the students.) 


Sheer Grace

Eleven years ago, Medical Transcription (MT) was the in thing, a sunrise industry. It had become a law in the US—all doctor-patient encounters should be recorded or printed in readily-available documents. That opened a plethora of jobs here and abroad.

Our family jumped on the bandwagon and put up a school (Optimum TransSchool, Inc.) to train would-be transcriptionists. There were already many schools in our area, but what's one more?

Our vision was to be the leading MT Training Center, delivering an excellent industry-based program for our students to be job-ready upon graduation. We bought chairs for the waiting area in preparation for the influx of enrollees.

On our first day, despite massive advertising, we had one inquiry. He wasn't too sure about enrolling, but with the magic of our persuasion, he became our first student. And the only one—till two weeks later.   

Our chairs in the waiting area remained empty. And during our first, second, third, and fourth years, enrollment was sparse. Meanwhile all the other MT schools closed one after the other. Meaning, MT was not as hot as originally touted.

We kept our ground, despite non-revenue. On our seventh year, we agreed with our partners that capital infusion will be stopped. We likewise agreed that at any time we (those who are manning it) feel it's time to close shop, we should—and declare bankruptcy. 

Now on our 10th year, we're still here.

Not earning oodles of income (far from it), but gaining self-fulfillment and a sense of purpose. Our vision is fulfilled with our every graduate. About 98% are employed and are leaders in their offices. In fact, before our students could finish their course, they already have assured posts somewhere.  

MT companies call up, "What are you teaching your students? They are excellent! Can you give us more?"

MT company executives have come to our school to convince our students to join them as soon as possible.

Why are we still here?

Our school is a happy place. Graduates come and visit with boxes of goodies to tell us stories of success. Some students enroll because they have personal problems—but see their days studying medical transcription at our school as calming respite. Graduation days are bitter-sweet affairs; some regret leaving, but they must, because a job is waiting elsewhere.

Why are we still here? Sheer grace.


A Nation Bewitched

A phenomenon that never ceases to baffle me is the nation’s adoring love for our new president, Rodrigo Duterte. Since assuming office in June last year until today, the fervor of people’s  adulation has not waned.

Today, we are witnesses to how millions sing him hosannas. 

He laces his speeches here and abroad with expletives never-before-heard behind a presidential podium. “Oh, those are minor fringes. Look at his actions not his words.”

He mounts vitriolic attacks against long-time country allies, the EU, and calls them sons of whores. “Oh, it’s about time someone stood up to these big-wheels who think they can bully small ones like us.” 

He curses the Pope and the Catholic Church for criticizing his war on drugs. “Oh, come on, the Catholic Church is not exactly lily white.” 

He admits he has ordered the killing of criminals and of drug addicts. In fact, he said he had killed some with his own hands.  Statistics show that in his eight months as president, 8,000 drug addicts or pushers (all of them poor) have been slain. “Oh, they deserve to die. Those addicts are not human, they cause us so much grief.”

He allows the burial of the late Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged the country, at the Cemetery of Heroes. “Oh, move on, the guy has been dead for years; he was a soldier so he deserves to be buried there.”

He fires the elected Vice President from his cabinet. “Oh, you perform, he retains you. You don’t perform, well, he fires you!”

He has not solved crime and corruption which he promised he would in three to six months. “Oh, in six years, that will all be solved; the country is in the right direction.” 

He brags that he had a sexually transmitted disease when he was younger. He has three girlfriends; he is taking Fentanyl for a malingering disease. “Oh, hahaha! [amused laughter]”

He appoints a bold, sexy dancer known to perform lap dances on stage to the Movie and Television Review and classification Board. “Oh . . .”

He can do no wrong. You get lynched if you as much say anything negative about him. He has us all wrapped in his macho fingers. The nation is enraptured, bewitched.

His Christians fans are quick to quote Romans 13:1(NLT), “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.”

Is submission to authority the same as adoring love? For how do we make of this: 

“What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20)

Lord, please give us grace to understand this baffler that has gripped our nation.   


Mothers and Child

Over a few years, my friend Yay and I have had practically the same college students because we teach in the same university (albeit different subjects) offering UK business degrees.

Many of these former students now have families of their own, and the others are successful leaders or executives in the places where they work, here and abroad.

We take pride in their achievements; we like to think we had somehow helped in their development as noteworthy individuals.

Once in a while, some of those students seek the both of us out, treat us to a cup of coffee, or come and attend our book events. 

One of them is Carla.

She used to be a topnotch writer in a Manila publication before she decided to be with her husband in the US. She came to one of our twin-book-signing activity at OMF Lit, bought our books, and gave us each a gift. To this day, I keep the pair of earrings shaped like tiny sparkling ribbons she chose specially for me. 

Another one is Ryan.

In Yay’s class, he had heard about our Savior and has since accepted Him as his own. Now he is a youth leader and serves Jesus in a growing community church. He has put up his own design shop while moonlighting as a designer in a bigger shop. Knowing perhaps that teachers carry too many doodads, he gave Yay and me each a tote bag. 

Many others mention both our names on social media, or make time to send us twin messages. 

This made Yay quip, “Mothers and child.”

The blessing of having a co-teacher with whom you share your faith—aside from sharing classrooms, students, and academic complexities (with a bit of grumbling sometimes)—is that you have someone to enrich and support you through discussions of the Word, on occasions when the load is too heavy to carry alone. 

Teaching is only five or ten percent of my time, but it reaps me 100% of grace through students like Carla and Ryan.